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Troubador turned beggar, a dapper king growling from your jeweled
throne as I enter your home. You turn your whiskered nose up
until I offer mice bites of cheese from the icebox.

You take them carefully from my fingertips with your tiny teeth,
then to show your love of all creatures great and small, you hump
your giraffe. Our pilgrimage begins, we step out amidst

the Poor Clares, you sniff gingerly. Slip and click, claws scrape
hallway linoleum as you scuttle from doormat to doormat. Sit
your silent protest of passive resistance at top of stairs—

it worked for Ghandi and Martin Luther King but you’re just ten
tough pounds of hair and teeth, a bat without wings, this city’s
great rat terrier, terrorist king. Jacob’s not the only one

Tell me about the painting that was the germ for this novel.

I’d organized a tour as part of a teacher’s conference at the Hunter Museum of American Art on how to use art in writing assignments. We were shown several paintings and then told to choose one as a writing prompt. I was drawn to a painting called Confrontation by Hughie Lee-Smith, which showed two girls not looking at each other on a surreal and crumbling beach front (on loan from the Smithsonian American Museum of Art). The painting expressed alienation and disconnection, and hinted at a destructive past. I asked myself, who are these girls and what has happened that makes so disconnected? Almost immediately, I decided the girls were sisters, but one was adopted, Korean. The novel took off from there.

You wrote a whole book about whale poop?

Guilty, as charged.

 

Why?

Well, who knows? I really felt compelled to write it. Ambergris deserved a biography of it own, and one didn’t exist. It was the only subject I’ve ever encountered that became more interesting and strange the more I read about it.

By the end of the first month, Wayne was smoking dope bought by his friends’ yobosayos from the Korean pharmacy, which the GIs weren’t allowed to enter. The stuff was weak, low grade compared to what people grew back home, but it was all there was. He’d roll and smoke joints at night in one of his buddies’ hooches while they were out in the Ville. Back in his bunk he’d listen to the Armed Forces radio play all the good music he grew up with, fixing his eyes on the Bible, trying to get past Genesis. That lasted a few more weeks until his buddies got tired of his using their hooches and yobosayos to get his stuff. “Get your own shit, you cheap lazy motherfucker,” one of them said. And so one Friday he went out with them to Duffy’s, intent on doing just that.

How do you feel?

Like not enough everything and too much something.

 

How will you feel this afternoon?

I’m trying to live in the moment, man.

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Once again
in the city of churches
only wariness

of superstition
might bring us
together

under a ringed moon.
Exhibitions
of tenderness,

like tropical butterflies
alive in winter
offset

Please explain what just happened.

My sixteen-year-old cat just sneezed a tooth at me and looked at me like, “Really?”  I didn’t know what to tell him.  I’m going to put his tooth under my pillow, and maybe I’ll get a new cat.

 

What is your earliest memory?

On the bookmobile at age four.  My mom is trying to make me talk to a girl my age.  I am terrified, and I may have cried.

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Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week we’ll ask a different writer five questions on the subject.

Lou Beach is an illustrator, artist, and writer. He recently published 420 Characters, a book of short fiction which also features 10 original collages. He inhabits many states of mind but is most at home in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife, the photographer Issa Sharp. Their days are spent hobnobbing with celebrities and the literary elite, heads of state and captains of industry. Lou is debonair, fluid in twelve languages and an expert marksman. He has a Chihuahua and two human children.